SALT LAKE CITY -- Little plays matter as much as big plays for the Dallas Mavericks these days.
The Mavericks have struggled to rediscover their winning ways even with Dirk Nowitzki back on the court. Few NBA teams have struggled to close out games as badly as Dallas has this season. For that reason, the Mavericks are examining the smallest details in their quest to reverse a slide that has seen them lose 11 of their last 13 games.
"We just want to do the right things," Mavs center Chris Kaman said. "Take the small things that are important and, every game, focus on those little things. Those are the things that are hurting us. A small play here will add to another (big) play on the other end."
Against the Utah Jazz, a major emphasis will be getting a rebounding edge and effectively guarding the post. It won't be an easy task. The Jazz's front line is collectively one of the best units in the league in controlling the paint.
Al Jefferson averages a team best 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Paul Millsap is second on the team in both categories -- with 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds. Their reserves, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, are just as tough to deal with. Favors is averaging 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while Kanter chips in 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest.
"You don't see a lot of teams with four guys that do what they do here," said Kaman, who anchors the Dallas front court with 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. "It makes it tough."
Limiting the Jazz from dominating in the post will be a top priority for the Mavericks. Letting Utah have its way down low will equal another long night for Dallas.
"They're a big paint points team," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "They're a big rebounding team and a big offensive rebounding team. When they get to the free-throw line a lot, they're really difficult to deal with so we've got to be physical. We've got to rebound in order to take away the post. We've got to keep them off the free-throw line."
If Nowitzki continues to make progress to regaining his form, it will make a huge difference for the Mavericks. Nowitzki has averaged just 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in seven games since returning from knee surgery. But he posted a season-best 20 points and six rebounds in his first start of the season in a 99-96 overtime loss Saturday to the New Orleans Hornets.
Carlisle is encouraged by the progress Nowitzki has made and feels like he is doing a good job of acclimating to his supporting cast.
"If you're going to integrate a guy, he'd be one of the easier guys in the world to integrate to a basketball team because he's got a great understanding of the game," Carlisle said. "He flows well with the game. As we move forward, we're going to keep on working on tying this thing together."
Nowitzki feels like the team as a whole is making progress at showing a more competitive form. From his perspective, the Mavericks are on the cusp of turning the corner and salvaging the season.
Once again, it comes down to doing all the little things.
"We're right there," Nowitzki said. "We've just got to find a way to win those games. Be a little smarter down the stretch and not turn the ball over. Take good shots. Get some big shots and big rebounds down the stretch. These are all the little things that help you win games down the stretch."